Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew has given his hosts a friendly reminder that today's Football United Tour finale is, well, a friendly.
Both English Premier League clubs seem to have enjoyed their rare visit Down Under but for West Ham United's Cheikhou Kouyate, not so much.
The midfielder left Eden Park on crutches following Wellington Phoenix's upset 2-1 win on Wednesday night, lucky to avoid serious injury after Louis Fenton's studs struck his shin.
Pardew didn't watch the game live but Fenton's challenge certainly caught his eye as he reviewed the tape ahead of today's battle of the midweek winners at what is expected to be a near capacity Westpac Stadium.
"I noticed there were a couple of challenges that were probably not suitable really for pre-season so I hope we don't see those," said Pardew, whose highly paid players showcased slick skills in Tuesday's 4-0 romp over Sydney FC.
"I think I'll probably have a conversation [with Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick]. For both of us it's very important that we start the season with our best players.
"We'll still be committed to win and sometimes challenges can look worse than they are.
"The most pleasing part of this trip so far has been our welcome. I don't say that lightly. We've had a nice welcome from everybody here and hopefully that is reflected in our mood and in our performances."
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce was also unhappy with Fenton's footwork, saying it was fortunate Kouyate didn't break his leg.
Those comments met no argument from Merrick.
"Sam was right - we want to win the ball, we want to tackle hard but we've got to be respectful, these boys have got an EPL season ahead of them," Merrick said.
"Louis was out of order with his first challenge and in fact in an A-League game, he probably wouldn't have stayed on. I think it was youthful enthusiasm, it wasn't deliberate."
While another Phoenix triumph might be too much to ask for, Kiwi football fans are in for a rare treat today.
Winston Reid's Hammers kick off proceedings against Sydney and will be eager to provide a feel-good story following the news that star striker Andy Carroll will be out for four months with an ankle injury.
Similarly, new Sydney coach Graham Arnold will demand more in the way of basic skills after the Sky Blues were badly outclassed by the Magpies in Dunedin.
Reid and Shane Smeltz - New Zealand's two goalscorers at the 2010 World Cup - are set for an intriguing head-to-head as Arnold said the All Whites striker was likely to see some gametime after sitting out on Tuesday.
And then for the main course as the hometown heroes - last and second-last in the past two A-League's - chase an improbable double of EPL scalps.
Pardew promised a "similar" lineup to Dunedin, meaning fans can expect to savour the defensive mastery of Argentine captain Fabricio Coloccini, the pace and skill of French forward Yoan Gouffran and two of the club's great hopes: new signings Siem de Jong (Ajax) and Emmanuel Riviere (Monaco), both goalscorers against Sydney.
"It was great to see the new guys settling in so well," Pardew said.
"We're already showing we have much more offensive options this year."
Merrick will also field a full strength XI.
"We're going to have our hands full with these boys. They're really good at holding the ball and the ability to move the ball around the midfield and get it forward to very quick, big, strong strikers is first class. It's going to be a great challenge."
AT A GLANCE
Game one: West Ham v Sydney, 2pm
TAB: West Ham $1.70, Sydney $4.20, Draw $3.75
Game two: Newcastle v Phoenix, 4.30pm
TAB: Newcastle $1.45, Phoenix $5.75, Draw $4.25
Both games at Westpac Stadium and on Sky Arena pay-per-view
- The Dominion Post
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